OGS 2011

Starting Out in Genealogy

When starting out in genealogy and/or family history research, it is integral that you start with what you know and work towards what you don't know. The easiest way to start with what you know, it to start with yourself: your birth date, birth place, baptism, schools attended, school activities. Once you have yourself, note your siblings, your parents, grandparents and other relatives that you do know. Be sure of your facts before you move on. Mistakes can happen easily and greatly impact your resulting research.

Another major point is to watch our for spelling. Especially when looking into older records, names can be spelled differently than they are today because spelling was often not considered to be overly important, and because different people collecting the information may have written names down in a different way. When doing research, it's important to try different spelling variations to ensure that you are able to find what you are looking for.

In this session, the types of documents that genealogists use were detailed:

Marriage Bonds
A marriage bond is different than a marriage license. Marriage bonds, many of which are held at the Library and Archives of Canada, was note of a "deposit" that was put down by someone to ensure that two individuals who promise to marry actually marry.

Is a snapshot list of a given night. The instructor stresses not to assume anything. While a census is an extremely useful tool to extract information, just because someone is listed on a census at a certain house does not necessarily mean that they live there, as they could be visitors, for example. It's also important to keep in mind that the purpose of having a census is for the government to find out answers to their questions. In other words, the census is not designed for genealogical research.

Who's Who Directory
Held by many libraries. If you have a relative who migh have had some prominence, he/she may be in this directory.

Farmer's Directory
A farmer's directory was often a part of a town or city directory. A farmer's directory normally does not list more tha one person per household, which can be tricky when determining kinship. The instructor also stresses not to overlook the advertisements within the directory. Sometimes there is additional information within these ads that can reveal something about a family member.

Assessments and Collectors Rolls
These are municipal documents that were used to prepare for the collection of taxes. Many of them are found at the Archives of Ontario and include personal information such as the following:
-school district
-home owner's name
-age of the head of the household
-value of lot and property
-amount of tax owed
-much, much more

Voters List
A list of eligible voters in a given area. Privacy legislation may prevent you from seeing them, especially more recent ones. Many of them are available online, and can be found via a Google search. It's important to note that voters lists are only available for years in which there was an election.

Military Lists
Are lists of individuals who are serving or have served in the military. Some lists are transcribed, but many are not. Another avenue to find lists is to look up regimental websites (if the regiment served in is known) to find lists of those who have served in the past.

Passenger and Immigration lists
Passenger and Immigration lists are commonly used resources by genealogists. Many of these lists are available on Ancestry. Lists of people coming to Canada are available from 1865 and forward, while border crossing across the Canada/U.S. border is available from 1895-1956. Lists of early Ontario settlers are also available on Ancestry.

When looking at an index for information, try to find the original work from which the index is from to gather more detailed information. Surprisingly, many people use an index, find the name of the person they are looking for, and stop there. Keep digging! There's more to be found!

Crown Land Records
Many first families coming to Ontario were likely granted land by the government. To find records for these transactions, look to either the Library and Archives of Canada or the Archives of Ontario. Some additional notes on land records:
-if people received land from the crown, they received a patent and then they registered with the land registry office (in Ontario only)
-the Latter Day Saints have preserved a lot of land records, so they are an additional resource for this type of research.

It's Not All on the Internet…Yet!

This session, headed by J. Brian Gilchrist, focuses on genealogical resources that are not on the Internet (yet) that may be of great interest to those doing genealogical research. He mentions the great misnomer that everything a genealogist needs is available online. This is far from the truth, especially as it applies to Canadian documents. He mentions that 90% of Canadian government records are not available AT ALL for the public (let alone online), meanwhile in Britain, 90% of government records ARE available to the public.

Following are resources that Gilchrist talked about that are not yet available online, but are worth using as a resource if hard copies can be found:

Upper Canada Sundries
These are supporting documents for land petitions. These are not indexed, but rather calendered (listed in chronological order by date). They can be found at the Upper Canada Library

Office of the Surrogate Clerk
This office oversaw the locality that was given juristiction over the offices that administered probates. Users can do a name study for deaths, and these documents published by this office are available through the Archives of Ontario via interlibrary loan.

Assessment and Collectors Roles
These documents give a large variety of information about land ownership. They were collected and published annually.

Voters List
These are lists of eligible voters in a given municipality, but now fall under the privacy act.

House of Refuge/Industry and Jail Registries
Some jail registries fall under the privacy act while others don't. If you know an ancestor who was imprisoned at any time, these might be useful to you but are not available online (nor will they ever be).

Introduction the Eastern European Family History

Researching Eastern European Family History has unique challenges from other parts of the world. Due to historical events affecting that region (such as WWI and WWII as well as the Soviet takeover of many countries) many records have been destroyed, are considered suspect, or many were never been created in the first place. Also, because the borders of Eastern Europe have changed frequently over time, it is often difficult for researchers to determine which country, archives or documents to look in for information. To make things even more difficult, for many researchers there is also the issue of a language barrier. This can make transcribing documents extremely difficult, and researching less effective.

Basic Rules of Research
The basic rules for research an Eastern European family history is the same for when researching family history in other regions: start with your immediate family and with other relations that you know about and work your way backwards. Since Eastern European records are scarce, it is important to gather as much information from family members as possible. Take a look at any personal records or photos your family members might have. Conduct as many interviews with family members as possible and try to get hard dates and places.

It's also very important to understand the history of the country you are researching. Without this information, border changes, government structures and thus document availability will not be understood and will greatly impede the researching process. If possible, learn as much about the country as possible, and countries nearby as well, since borders changed frequently. The presenter suggests doing a Wikipedia search to get a general idea of a country/region's history, and looking at history books for further information on small regions/townships. When looking further into a specific area, look at more than one map from different time periods to look for boundary changes. Also, learn about internat divisions that existed (or currently exist) within a country. This is relevant because many records are located in local archives and you need to know which one is the most appropriate to seek out.

The presenter stresses strongly that it is important to do this kind of research, as well as exhausting all of the available local resources before making a trip overseas for further research. Without background information and a strong familiarity of your family and the country doing research overseas will be a waste of time. Also, there might be more local archives (even those in the U.S.) that might be more helpful than those overseas.

Potential Resources that might be helpful to your search:

Census, church and civil registration
Civil registration was not started until 1920, and the census wasn't taken until 1925, so it is difficult to find information that is contain in these records in earlier years.

Also, the Russian Census returns are divided by male and female. Thismakes it a challenge to determine which males and females are related and/or live in the same household.

Land Records
Land records didn't formally exist during the communist period, so these documents will only exist for years prior to 1917. However for countries that were integrated into the USSR later may have records available after 1917.

Citizenship and Military Records

German Immigration Files
These files concern ethnic Germans who lived across Eastern Europe were forced back into Germany during WWII. Some of these files are available from the Mormon church.

Webster's Geographic Dictionary and similar
Are helpful to find maps and information on place-name changes. Atlases are also useful, but it is important to get info from different time periods since this geographic area has changed significantly over time.

An organization (website online) that specializes in Eastern European Family History.

Get ThemTalking!

One way to extract valuable genealogical information is to conduct interviews with people in your family or those close to your family. An interview is useful to get information that is not available in a published document, can clarify and/or confirm information that you have already discovered in previous research, and adds colour to your family tree.

Before conducting an interview, it is good to determine what you would like to learn from this interview. Try to create multiple angles to obtain the information from someone, especially for information that might be contraversial or very private in nature. Going in prepared is essential. Without a plan, you might stray too much from what you want to learn and then waste your time as well as your interviewee's.

When conducting an interview, it is first important to establish a repor with the person you are talking with. It is important that the person you are interviewing is comfortable with you and you need to gain their confidence. Without this repor, it is less likely that the interviewee will want to reveal personal information to you, and thus makes your research less useful. Sometimes, a good tactic is starting with questions that you already know the answers to. Sometimes, it works to find a common interest that you both have and talk about that first. Every person will be different, so every approach will be different. However the goal is the same: get them to trust you, which will then help them open up.

When the interviewee is answering your questions, try to get them to be as specific as possible, especially when it comes to dates, names and locations. While guesses are good if the person can't be specific, the more specific the answers are the better. This will help you when you are continuing your research without the interviewee. If the interviewee has documents, ask to see them to confirm facts and stories. Always press for more if you think the interviewee is trying to skirt around a topic or event; come back for more later if you think you can try a different approach.

It is important not to "feed answers" to the interviewee, because you want answers to be in their words, not yours. Also, this can "contaminate" your research, because the interviewee might be inclined to simply agree with what you have said when maybe something else has happened, or more details can be revealed. The most important part about conducting an interview is to LISTEN. Remember, the person you are talking to could have genealogical answers you are looking for. It is important to let them do most of the talking.

Best Websites for East European Research

In this session, Lisa Alzo shared the best websites she has found for Eastern European genealogical research. Unfortunately the Internet connection wasn't working for this session, so we were unable to see the websites in real time, however we all received a handout with the websites listed. The one thing that Lisa stressed was that in order to understand your family's history, it is integral to understand the history of the area that they lived in. Because of the prevalence of boundary changes in Eastern Europe over history, it is impossible to find information about your family without knowing which offices or resource centres are relevant. Also, sometimes finding archival information requires an input of the name of surrounding villages and towns. This requires knowledge of the geographic area.

I have listed all of the genealogy websites in Lisa's list WPL's Delicious account for everyone to access.

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